Twice in this game the Indiana Pacers were in position to run away and hide; a 19-point lead in the second quarter, and 20-point lead in the third, but each time the bad habits of the blue and gold cropped up, giving life to the Washington Wizards in a way that came dangerously close to costing the Pacers a win they felt confident they had. But was there ever any doubt the Pacers would ultimately allow it to be much closer than it needed to be?
The Pacers have done just enough in all but one of their wins, a common theme when they've played eight of their 11 games within a couple of possessions. Tonight, their 20-point lead in the third dwindled all the way to one point in the fourth thanks to an 18-2 Wizards run, but it was a night defined by David West and Roy Hibbert, who took the torch to guide the Pacers to a win they had to have to stay afloat in the standings at just 5-7.
In case there was any doubt, yes, it was that Roy Hibbert who stepped up in a big way for Indiana, returning home to Washington, D.C., scoring 20 points, also grabbing 12 boards, blocking four shots, and dishing three assists. Tonight was a nice relief for Roy's season long slump, as shots that weren't going his way found the friendly roll all night, as the big fella went 8-10 from the floor, even 4-5 from the line.
David West led all scorers, however, with 30 points, adding in eight rebounds, four blocks, and three steals for his night. West was the workhorse late in the fourth quarter, finding a rhythm with his jumper, torching the Wizards every time he touched the ball. It all seemed like a matter of time for West and Hibbert, who had struggled mightily from the floor lately, to shoot 18-24 from the floor and 14-15 from the charity stripe. It's a big advantage for Indiana when they can find success with their front line.
Sam Young earned a lot of praise tonight for his efforts on the defensive end and in general hustle plays, creating opportunities for a Pacers team that has been too eager to give those opportunities to the opponent. Young finished with nine points and eight rebounds, his scoring an unfortunate product of 10 field goal attempts, six of those beyond the arc (only one going in). While the Pacers are often in need of offense, it's not a great sign to need to rely so heavily on Young for offense.
But it's not Young's fault the bench as a whole continues to struggle to perform. While Gerald Green had a nice game, scoring nine on 4-8 shooting, Indiana continues to see D.J. Augustin and Ian Mahinmi make minimal, lucky-if-they're-positive efforts. The two were not accidentally part of the team's two worst stretches tonight, neither offering a whole lot to take the load off of reliance on Young.
If it's struggling you're looking for, Paul George is a good place to start, with his performance late in games becoming legendary for all the wrong reasons. George continues to be completely ineffective shooting in the fourth quarter, and a night after leading the Pacers with 20, had his lowing scoring output of the year with just six, hampered and frustrated with foul trouble early in the game that had a part in killing his potential rhythm, though that seems like a fair excuse for the season long struggles in late-game situations.
The Pacers had 21 turnovers (10 in the second quarter alone), which led to 18 Washington points, and both teams were whistled for a total of 54 fouls. The good news for the Pacers is that Washington didn't gain any foul or free throw advantages, but foul trouble was a big part of Indiana's troubles at halftime. Indiana did gamble with the foul trouble, using it as a key turning point for the Pacers in the third quarter; Frank Vogel opting to stick with Hibbert who had just picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, allowing Indiana to open up their 20-point lead.
So it was another "just enough" effort, and they'll have another opportunity to grab a win this Thanksgiving Eve, as the Pacers will host the New Orleans Hornets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
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